Nathaniel Kennon Perkins’s journalism, reviews and travel writing have appeared in a variety of magazines and
newspapers, including SLUG and The Tico Times. His creative work has appeared TriQuarterly, Pithead Chapel, and Commas and Colons. He is the fiction editor of Enormous Rooms, the premier undergraduate literary journal of the University of Utah.
It was late afternoon, and the crowd of students was finally waning. I sat on a cement bench, my boots crossed in front of me, heels on cooling dirt rubbed raw of grass and packed concrete-hard. Around me were university buildings, rigid, and around those sat the rest of a smoggy city on the westernmost perch of the Rockies. It was the spot where the stylish Japanese students stood and dropped the butts of expensive cigarettes. The sun shone sideways over the desert, broke through the blue spruce and onto my face.
Martín found me on this existential pinhead and slapped me on the shoulder, startling me upright. I stood, and we embraced and began walking downhill toward the corner where the light rail stops on its way downtown.
“How have you been, brother?” he asked, and I started in, talking and not letting up, catching breaths quickly and going on. I told him of the girls I had been seeing and of the guy I had met the weekend before, a black-clad and somber punk that I picked up at a show at the collective, about how I left a backpack full of library books in his bedroom and was too embarrassed to go back and retrieve them. I talked about anarchist theory, about its inevitable acceptance by the masses. This led to stories about the bikes I was building and of the skateboard tricks I had been learning. I told him a little bit about my art, but not too much.
He didn’t speak, but smoked, listening. Each time I said something that interested him, he turned, his hair brushing across his shoulders, to look at me with his good eye. He was blind in his left, a blunt, watery-gray mass of dead tissue that made people uncomfortable to look into. He refused to cover it up with a patch, or even with sunglasses. Instead, he let it float free through this world like a broken spell, something turned over to violence and harshness, a ghost in his socket.
Martín hadn’t always been blind, of course. The eye had been penetrated on two occasions. The first time was when we were children. Martín’s mother had spent her whole life gardening, and a surreal jungle overtook the lot on which her house sat, thick and dark and wetted by an array of sprinklers so expansive and complex that it should have been criminalized way out here in the dry West where we grew up. She had a real collection out there, specimens from Africa and the Mongolian Steppes and the Southern Cone of South America, species, entirely alien to each other in nature, which twisted and intertwined like a bizarre, half-acre wrought iron sculpture.
One gnarled bush, thick with inch-long thorns, was our castle. It had grown in such a way that there was a tunnel, just tall and wide enough for us to crawl through on our hands and knees, one behind the other. After five feet or so, the tunnel opened up into a little cave in which we could lie on our backs and look up through the branches and into the blue-white sky.
Once, lying there like that, together in this womb of flora, a rattlesnake snuck up, wriggling between us. Martín started and sat up, perfectly skewering his eyeball on a thorn that protruded from the low ceiling of the cave. He cried and the snake hurried off.
The second blow he sustained to the eye, taken in my defense, happened last year in a fight outside of a house party. The aggressor, a muscled and tightly-wound straight-edger, had just come upon conclusive evidence that I had been having ill-advised sexual interaction with his fiancé. He pushed me backwards off the porch and leapt down upon me, landing a few solid punches to the head before Martín pulled him off. Another of the straight-edger’s crew picked up my beer bottle, which I had let fall onto the lawn, and shattered it into Martín’s face. He dropped to the ground next to me. Our faces were inches apart, our injuries tributaries to a common shallow puddle of spilled blood that grew between us on the sidewalk.
The straight-edger and his crew delivered a few well-placed kicks each and took off. An hour later, an emergency room doctor removed a shard of glass the size of my thumbnail from my friend’s already dead eye.
I kept talking, and it wasn’t until we cut through the empty stadium parking lot that I was finally interrupted. A black car pulled in front of us and braked. The passenger window rolled down, and a girl, magazine-blonde, leaned out.
“Hey,” she said. “Um. Do you guys have a smoke I could bum?”
Martín took his pack from his pocket and shook out a cigarette and handed it to her. She took it and turned in her seat to listen to something that someone in the back was saying. She faced us again.
“If you give me three more I’ll show you my tits.”
“Deal,” I said, though neither the cigarettes nor the tits belonged to me. I grinned at the ridiculousness of it.
She began lifting up her shirt, ready to unfold herself to us. Martín stopped her.
“Please,” he said, holding up his hands. She held her shirt halfway up her stomach, waiting. “I’m not going to give you anymore cigarettes. I can see boobs on the Internet.”
He sidestepped the car and began to walk toward the train stop. I looked at him and then at the moment lost and then hurried to catch up.
“If anarchism ever gets accepted by the masses,” he said, “then I’ll become a communist dictator or a CEO or some kind of priest. I’ll run in the complete opposite direction. They’re always wrong, the masses,” he said. He smiled, and the sun caught in his bad eye and stuck there, twinkling. For a moment, he looked as though he were joking.